The Case of José and the Bull

José and the Bull

José Delgado, a particularly charismatic neuroscientist, demonstrated to a group of newspaper reporters a remarkable new procedure for controlling aggression (see Horgan, 2005). Delgado strode into a Spanish bull ring carrying only a red cape and a small radio transmitter. With the transmitter, he could activate a battery-powered stimulator that had previously been mounted on the horns of the other inhabitant of the ring. As the raging bull charged, Delgado calmly activated the stimulator and sent a weak electrical current from the stimulator through an electrode that had been implanted in the caudate nucleus (see Chapter 3), a structure deep in the bull s brain. The bull immediately veered from its charge. After a few such interrupted charges, the bull stood tamely as Delgado swaggered about the ring. According to Delgado, this demonstration marked a significant scientific breakthrough the discovery of a caudate taming center and the fact that stimulation of this structure could eliminate aggressive behavior, even in bulls specially bred for their ferocity. To those present at this carefully orchestrated event and to most of the millions who subsequently read about it, Delgados conclusion was compelling. Surely, if caudate stimulation could stop the charge of a raging bull, the caudate must be a taming center. It was even suggested that caudate stimulation through implanted electrodes might be an effective treatment for human psychopaths. What do you think?

Analysis of the Case

The fact of the matter is that Delgado’s demonstration provided little or no support for his conclusion. It should have been obvious to anyone who did not get caught up in the provocative nature of Delgado’s media event that there are numerous ways in which brain stimulation can abort a bull s charge, most of which are simpler or more direct, and thus more probable, than the one suggested by Delgado. For example, the stimulation may have simply rendered the bull confused, dizzy, nauseous, sleepy, or temporarily blind rather than nonaggressive; or the stimulation could have been painful. Clearly, any observation that can be interpreted in so many different ways provides little support for any one interpretation.When there are several possible interpretations for a behavioral observation, the rule is to give precedence to the simplest one; this rule is called Morgan s Canon.

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